A volunteer group that saves data at risk of disappearing when web sites die says the founder of TwitPic is blocking their efforts to record photos that have been uploaded to the site. TwitPic announced on Sept. 4 that the service would shut down on Sept. 25.
“We think it’s a tragedy,” said Jason Scott, who heads up the Archive Team. Members of the group keep an eye out for sites that are closing up shop and then download remaining content. It offers the material to the Internet Archive, which operates the Wayback Machine, a service for looking at snapshots of Web sites in history. Most often, the Internet Archive wants the data the Archive Team saves, Scott said.
The team has been trying to download TwitPic photos since the shutdown announcement, he said. But it noticed that Noah Everett, TwitPic’s founder, started blocking their access. “We are still downloading but not with any speed because any amount of speed gets their attention and they find it,” Scott said. So far, the team has downloaded around 395,000 photos. It’s not clear how many total photos are stored with TwitPic but the service has been around since 2008 and was the first such service that allowed people to attach photos to tweets, so the volume is likely quite a bit larger.
Everett did not reply to a request for comment. His last tweet was on the day he announced on the TwitPic blog that the service was shutting down due to a trademark dispute with Twitter.
Scott said one member of the team had an interaction with Everett, who apparently said the equivalent of “trust me,” Scott said. “We’ve been trying to reach him ever since,” he said.
“It’s not quite clear what his game is,” Scott said.
It’s possible that Everett doesn’t want to shoulder the bandwidth cost associated with allowing such a major download from the TwitPic service. “A lot of people don’t like it that we download a lot,” Scott said. “I can understand their frustration.”
Scott worries about the loss of photos that might have historical value in the future. “The fact is, Twitter was this unique new way that the entire human race interacted for four or five years. We watched it warp all of pop culture. It changed the relationships between celebrities and politicians and the world. And it’s in danger of disappearing,” he said, at least for the time period when Twitpic was the predominant way that people attached photos to tweets.
Many of the more famous photos that were uploaded via TwitPic, like one that showed the airplane that landed in the Hudson River, have been copied and displayed elsewhere. “But it’s unrealistic to say that every important photo with historic context has been pulled elsewhere,” he said.
Scott hasn’t lost all hope. He noted that Everett might have “some super secret thing he’s negotiated and he’ll surprise us all on the 25th with some ‘P.S., TwitPic is even bigger.’ But I’ll be unhappy if this guy turns it off and we lose it all,” he said.
Update: TwitPic announced it has been acquired by an as-yet-unnamed company and will remain in operation.